NFL Player Who Stood for the National Anthem ‘Explains’
Alejandro Villanueva, a veteran, shared how he came to stand alone — and a quarterback says he has regrets about his team's protest
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle and former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva has publicly apologized for standing for the national anthem while his team sat in the locker room at Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears.
After being photographed breaking from his team’s protest, Villanueva earned himself a good amount of press attention — as well as both positive and negative comments from fans caught up in the currently raging national anthem debate.
“Every time I see that picture of me standing by myself, I feel embarrassed,” Villanueva said at a press conference.
He continued, “Unfortunately, I threw my teammates under the bus, unintentionally.”
The player also added, “I made Coach Tomlin look bad, and that is my fault and my fault only. I made my teammates look bad and that is my fault.”
“I made Coach Tomlin look bad, and that is my fault and my fault only."
Villanueva also said he was not offended as a veteran when people took a knee during the national anthem. He said the move is misinterpreted as disrespectful to veterans because people on each side of the argument see opposing things when they look at the flag.
Villanueva actually revealed that at least some of his team planned on standing with him in the tunnel for the national anthem — but were blocked.
"When everyone sees an image of me standing by myself, everybody thinks the team and the Steelers are not behind me, and that is absolutely wrong," Villanueva said.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said the team's captains were going to stand with Villanueva. "There was a flag or something coming off the field so there was a bunch of Bears fans coming off the field holding that, going in front of us, so it kind of held us up,” he said.
Interestingly enough, Roethlisberger released a Monday statement saying he regretted the Steelers' protest of the national anthem. "I was unable to sleep last night and want to share my thoughts and feelings on our team’s decision to remain in the tunnel for the National Anthem yesterday," the Super Bowl-winning player said. "The idea was to be unified as a team when so much attention is paid to things dividing our country, but I wish we approached it differently. We did not want to appear divided on the sideline with some standing and some kneeling or sitting."
He added, "As a team, it was not a protest of the flag or the anthem. I personally don’t believe the Anthem is ever the time to make any type of protest. For me, and many others on my team and around the league, it is a tribute to those who commit to serve and protect our country, current and past, especially the ones that made the ultimate sacrifice."
It's a strange world in which football players are losing sleep after feeling forced to protest the national anthem, and veterans feel they must publicly explain themselves for standing for the anthem. Villanueva served his country for three tours in Afghanistan and won a Bronze Star. This is a man who should never, ever have to explain or backtrack for standing for the national anthem — yet here we are.